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NMSU physics department announces upcoming speakers in evening colloquium series

For anyone who ever wondered what causes earthquakes, how the Earth's continents came to exist or really what happens when the Earth "shakes, rattles and rolls," these topics and others will be addressed by a scientist from New Mexico State University's College of Arts and Sciences.

The NMSU Department of Physics will host its second speaker in the evening colloquium series for the spring semester to reach out to youth, the community and anyone with an interest in science. NMSU associate professor of physics, Tom Hearn will present "Tectonics and Seismology in Tibet" on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Corbett Center auditorium.

High school, middle school students and anyone with an interest in science are invited to attend these lectures, according to physics department head at the College of Arts and Sciences William Gibbs. There is no cost for admission, and each speaker in the series will gear the presentation of their subject toward "non-scientists" and bring the language to a level of understanding for the general public including high school and junior high school students.

Nearly 100 people attended the first talk given last month, and Gibbs hopes attendance will continue to thrive. "The middle school students who attended the last lecture had some very insightful questions. We were impressed," Gibbs said.

Hearn's talk will address an area of geophysics called plate tectonics with a focus on the earth's properties and what causes earthquakes. In particular, Hearn will address what causes earthquakes in the Tibetan Plateau, the Earth's highest and largest continental plateau. The Tibetan Plateau has an average elevation of over 15,000 feet and covers an area about four times the size of Texas.

"While much of the Plateau's uplift can be attributed to the tectonic collision of India and Asia 40 million years ago, it is difficult to explain its vast area without invoking more complicated tectonic development," Hearn said. He and other NMSU scientists have had an ongoing involvement since 1992 in a series of seismology experiments to look at the Earth's structure of the plateau in order to unravel its origins. The current experiment in the central Plateau consists of 62 installed seismometers in the Qinghai province portion of the Plateau.

"This talk will look at the tectonics and geography of Tibet, the logistics of organizing a field experiment there and what we hope to learn from our current experiment," Hearn said.

Hearn specializes in seismic tomography and its application to regional tectonic problems. Tomography is an imaging method known for its application in medical "CAT-scans," however, in seismic tomography, the data sources are earthquakes. In this field of study, the sonic velocity structure of the earth is reconstructed and then interpreted.

Next month in the series, Heinz Nakotte will speak on Wednesday, March 18, about work he and a research partner are doing on single-crystal gold pieces. The team studies, in essence, how the atoms within the gold are arranged and how much the pieces are worth. The presentation will start at 7 p.m. in the Corbett Center auditorium. For more information on the series, contact (575) 646-6711.